I agree with critics who argue that it is much too early to evaluate new coach Brian Kelly's success or failure at Notre Dame. Sure, some Irish fans are looking for an instant turnaround from the Davie/Willingham/Weis malaise. But Kelly needs three years to prove that he can make a difference in South Bend.
Remember, Kelly has been on the scene for only a few months. This is his first full recruiting class coming in. This year and next year will be most important. It will give Kelly an opportunity to show if he can recruit on an elite level against the likes of Florida, Ohio State, Texas, USC and Alabama, where Notre Dame used to be.
The trick is to recruit nationally ranked high school players and develop them into big-time college players. Already, Kelly's first recruiting class ranks among the top 10 in the nation. But Weis recruited nationally ranked classes, players that all of the elite programs coveted, but many of the players weren't developed once they arrived on campus.
There still are discouraging signs. Jordan Prestwood, a 6-6, 280-pounder who was the No. 1 tight end in Florida, has de-committed after originally declaring for Notre Dame in March. He hasn't dropped Notre Dame entirely but he wants to look around and Florida and Florida State are looming because Prestwood lives in the Orlando area.
Prestwood, who ranked as the No. 66 player in the nation, was being recruited to play in the offensive line. And Notre Dame desperately needs help in the offensive line. Kelly has recruited Matt Hegarty, the top-rated guard in the nation, but he needs offensive tackles, tall and athletic kids who can protect the quarterback.
Remember, in my view, Notre Dame hasn't won a really big game since 1993 when the Irish beat Florida State. That was the last statement game, the last truly important and significant game that the Irish have won. Western Michigan doesn't count.
Notre Dame has experience too many coaching changes, five coaches since 1993. The players weren't developed. They weren't taught to win. To regain its old-time stature as one of the 10 elite programs in the nation, Notre Dame must develop players and give them confidence that they can win big games, the way they used to in a bygone era.
Everyone agrees that Notre Dame had more talent than Stanford but you wouldn't have known it by the result of the game. Even Lou Holtz's players had to learn how to win. I see heavily recruited players who need to be developed at their positions. Why hasn't Mount Carmel's Steven Filer developed? He was on everybody's recruiting list. Why is he a third-stringer? The entire defensive unit is filled with big-name players who were recruited by Michigan, Ohio State, Florida and USC but they haven't been developed.
The key to knowing how much talent Notre Dame really has is to determine how many players on the rosters will eventually play in the NFL. Another key is to determine how many major schools recruited the same players.
Unless he is Randy Moss or Michael Vick or Terrelle Pryor, any high school kid has to be developed and molded into a system. Nose tackle Ian Williams chose Notre Dame over Florida. Everybody wanted Dayne Crist and Notre Dame chose him over Andrew Luck, who went to Stanford. Notre Dame hasn't had a good running game in years.
Kelly's first season reminds me of Holtz' first year, when his team was 5-6. He was playing with a lot of Gerry Faust's recruits who couldn't play. Then Tim Brown won the Heisman Trophy two years later. And Holtz produced a national championship team in 1988 with a player he didn't want, St. Laurence's Stan Smagala, and a bunch of others such as Frank Stam, Julian's George Streeter, Mark Green and Tony Rice who developed their skills with the help of good coaching.